Science Café Past Presentations

Anthony Martin | Emory University, Oct. 17, 2019
Alien Invaders of the Georgia Coast
Invasive species of animals – from ambrosia beetles to feral horses – have caused major changes to ecosystems of the Georgia barrier islands and otherwise affected native species of plants and animals there. But what are some of their visible impacts, and what can we do to about these species? Find out with this lively, on-the-ground look at the traces of these animals, their histories, and behaviors. Anthony (Tony) Martin is a Professor of Practice in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Emory University, where he has taught classes in geology, paleontology, and environmental sciences. He has a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Georgia with a research specialty is ichnology, the study of modern and ancient traces from animal behavior. He has published more than 150 research articles and abstracts on a variety of modern and fossil traces. He is the author of eight books, including Life Traces of the Georgia Coast, Dinosaurs Without Bones, and The Evolution Underground, and his upcoming book is Tracking the Golden Isles with University of Georgia Press, available in spring 2020. In 2015, in recognition of his accomplishments in scientific exploration and public outreach, Martin was elected as a Fellow in The Explorers Club and a Fellow in the Geological Society of America.

Magnus Egersted | Georgia Institute of Technology | Sept. 19, 2019
Swarm Robotics: Lessons from Biology & How Robots Can Help With Environmental Monitoring
Nature is filled with relatively simple organisms that can come together to solve complex tasks. The area of swarm robotics is trying to mimic this idea by making large teams of robots coordinate their activities in order to produce elegant and effective behaviors. By drawing inspiration from social insects, flocking birds, or schooling fish, this talk will describe the foundations of swarm robotics, i.e., the basic principles that allow robots to form shapes, cover areas, or move in formation. One application domain where teams of robots have already proven useful is environmental monitoring, and this talk will describe how teams of robots can be used to in this context to help with conservation tasks.

Dr. Magnus Egerstedt is the Steve W. Chaddick School Chair and Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He previously served as the Executive Director for the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines at Georgia Tech, overseeing one of the largest robotics institutes in the nation. He received the M.S. degree in Engineering Physics and the Ph.D. degree in Applied Mathematics from the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, the B.A. degree in Philosophy from Stockholm University, and was a Postdoctoral Scholar at Harvard University. Dr. Egerstedt conducts research in the areas of swarm robotics, with particular focus on distributed machine learning, decision making, and coordinated controls.

Victoria Johnson | Hunter College, City University of New York | Aug. 15, 2019
American Eden
This illustrated lecture by historian Victoria Johnson features her new book, American Eden, which both the Wall Street Journal and Ron Chernow (Alexander Hamilton) have called “captivating.” American Eden was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction, the 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Biography, and the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History. It was also a New York Times Notable Book of 2018. When Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met on a dueling ground in July 1804, they chose the same attending physician: David Hosack. Family doctor and friend to both men, Hosack is today a shadowy figure at the edge of a famous duel, the great achievements of his life forgotten. But in 1801, on twenty acres of Manhattan farmland, Hosack founded the first public botanical garden in the new nation, amassing a spectacular collection of medicinal, agricultural, and ornamental plants. Hosack used his pioneering institution to train the next generation of American doctors and naturalists and to conduct some of the first systematic pharmacological research in the United States. Today, his former garden is the site of Rockefeller Center. 

Jennifer Rhode Ward | University of North Carolina Asheville | July 18, 2019
Genetic Status of Mountain Bog Pitcher Plants
Western North Carolina is home to several species of pitcher plants, a charismatic and carnivorous group. Members of this group are threatened by habitat destruction, including filling wetlands for development, and by collection. The amount of genetic diversity remaining in these small and isolated populations in unknown, and reintroduction efforts could inadvertently allow cross-species hybridization. This Science Cafe will discuss the demography and genetic structure of mountain bog pitcher plants, and explore ongoing questions.

Jen completed her B.A. in biology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Ph.D. in Biology / Biological Oceanography from the College of William and Mary. After postdoctoral research in terrestrial plant ecology and genetics at Portland State University, she started at UNC Asheville in Fall 2007. Her research combines molecular, field, and statistical methods to examine several interrelated aspects of plant population biology, and she has published projects focused on plant hybridization, invasive plant species, American ginseng, the ecology of a threatened rose, and pedagogical techniques. Grants from the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina Biotechnology Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey, and National Science Foundation support her current work. Ongoing projects in her lab include examining the floral ecology and genetics of Virginia spiraea, exploring gene flow and hybridization in pitcher plants, determining relationships between medicinal properties and genotypes of American ginseng, studying the effects of climate shifts on phenology of Southern Appalachian flora, developing genetic markers for threatened plants in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and investigating shifts in food production and consumption in rural Cuba.

Avery L. Russell | University of Pittsburgh | June 20, 2019
Buzz Pollination in Bees
Avery Russell studies pollinator behavior and its effects on the evolution of flowers, their rewards, and their microbes. He received his PhD from the University of Arizona and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh. He also enjoys long walks with the bees.

Debbie Folkerts & Fanomezana Rajaonarisoa | May 16, 2019
Auburn Universtiy/ M.S. University of Antananarivo, Madagascar,
Madagascar and a New Idea for Community-based Ecotourism
Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, is home to a unique group of organisms including the iconic lemurs and baobabs, in habitats that range from tropical rainforest, mangroves, and coral reefs, to the spiny desert. Nearly 80% of all species on the island are found nowhere else in the world. On the other side of the world, east of southern Africa, and biologically very different from us, this strange land is a common dream for many of us who love to travel and hope to view the world’s biodiversity. The huge island is also home to the gentle Malagasy—indigenous people of Madagascar—who are among the poorest nations in the world, despite the potential of their natural resources. Most of their island home has been converted to agriculture and living space. These hard-working people utilize nearly all resources available to them to produce food, build homes, and care for their families in a primitive life-style, but receive little benefit from the National Parks that preserve the remaining habitats unique to this island.

Madagascar’s human population is 26,704,958 and growing (2.69% annual increase) in a land area of 224,535 square miles. 35,908 square miles of forested area in Madagascar, according to a 2005 estimate, is shrinking quickly with a rate of deforestation estimated to be 193 square miles (.5%) per year.  9,248 square miles of land are currently protected and managed by Madagascar National Parks.  105 of Madagascar’s 111 or more lemur species are threatened with extinction, with 38 being critically endangered.

Yet, of the few wealth generators in the country, ecotourism seems to have the greatest potential to leverage local economy and positively contribute to community development and welfare. At present, however, it benefits only a small portion of the population—the educated few who qualify for a job in the tourism industry and wildlife conservation. The majority strive to live off the land in a primitive and destructive means of livelihood, unable to see the long-term value of what they are destroying. Conservation efforts will be futile as long as the social well-being and level of education in the communities near or around nature reserves are at their lowest.

Three major components of the process will be "mitabe" (awareness – inspiring involvement of Malagasy villagers),"manabe" (education – teaching and training so that villagers are prepared to handle the business of ecotourism), and "fanofuntours" (providing tour groups of visitors with expertly guided viewings of Madagascar’s unique wildlife and culturally enriched accommodations). 

With your help, we can make a change for the future of Madagascar’s natural heritage; from seemingly futile conservation efforts in the face of worsening decline, to a sustainable management of the island’s precious biological resources; from a poor nation of primitive people with little appreciation for their natural heritage to a more educated and concerned population of people actively working to protect their forests and better their lives!


Maria Fadiman, Florida Atlantic University | Oct. 25, 2018
The intimate relationship between plants and people in the Amazon, African Savannah and Bahamian Islands
Maria Fadiman is an associate professor in the department of Geosciences at Florida Atlantic University and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She researches the human/environmental aspect of conservation, focusing on ethnobotany, the study of the relationship between people and plants in rural areas throughout the globe. She has been featured twice as a TEDx speaker in Berkeley, CA and Cancún, Mexico. In addition to her peer reviewed academic publications, she is one of the invited contributors to the book, Global Chorus, along with other such as the Dalai Lama and Jane Goodall.  Her rainforest essay was recently published in the Voices section of the American Way Magazine. She loves teaching and was chosen for the Innovation in Teaching award for the College of Science, earned the Degree of Difference Award in “Recognition of positive impact on and special contributions to students” and was twice a finalist for the Distinguished Teacher of the Year award for the university. She earned her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, her MA from Tulane University and her BA from Vassar College.

Aaron M. Ellison, Harvard Forest | Sept. 27, 2018
Ethnobotany and the Relationship between People and Plants
Aaron M. Ellison is the Senior Research Fellow in Ecology in Harvard’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, a Senior Ecologist at the Harvard Forest, and a semi-professional photographer and writer. He works with forests, wetlands, ants, and carnivorous plant communities to study the disintegration and reassembly of ecosystems following natural and anthropogenic disturbances; thinks about the relationship between the Dao and the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis; reflects on the critical and reactionary stance of Ecology relative to Modernism, blogs as The Unbalanced Ecologist, and tweets as @AMaxEll17. Aaron is the author of A Primer of Ecological Statistics (2004/2012), A Field Guide to the Ants of New England (2012; recipient of the 2013 USA Book News International Book Award in General Science, and the 2013 award for Specialty Title in Science and Nature from The New England Society in New York City), Stepping in the Same River Twice: Replication in Biological Research (2017), Carnivorous Plants: Physiology, Ecology, and Evolution(2018), and Vanishing Point (2017), a collection of photographs and poetry from the Pacific Northwest. On weekends, he works wood.

David Steen, Georgia Sea Turtle Center | Aug. 30, 2018
Reptile Conservation

Snakes and turtles occur in species-rich communities and interact with each other in numerous and fascinating ways. At the same time, many species are imperiled due to human activity. However, we do not often think of using these species to help us understand more about community ecology or conservation biology, in part because they can be secretive and hard to sample in standardized ways. My talk will focus on how I have tried to learn more about these reptiles while generating information that may be helpful in generating conservations plans.

David Steen received his B.S. in Zoology from the University of New Hampshire and his M.S. in Ecology and Conservation Biology from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. While at SUNY-ESF, David initiated a long-term and ongoing collaboration with his advisor to determine how North American freshwater turtle populations have been negatively impacted by road mortality. After three years studying amphibian and reptile ecology and habitat relationships as Lead Research Technician in the Herpetology lab of the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, David left to obtain his Ph.D at Auburn University. His dissertation described the long-term response of wildlife to varied forest management strategies and resulted in recommendations regarding how to restore wildlife assemblages in the imperiled longleaf-pine ecosystem. After completing a postdoctoral position at Virginia Tech studying the ecotoxicology of freshwater turtles, David returned to Auburn University first as a Research Fellow and then as an Assistant Research Professor. His focus at Auburn was reintroducing the federally-threatened Eastern Indigo Snake to Alabama and the Florida panhandle and was particularly interested in studying the ecological impacts of these ongoing reintroductions. However, he also developed a research program to better understand the ecology and physiology of large invasive reptiles. David has published dozens of scientific papers on the ecology of conservation biology of wildlife and is an award-winning science communicator known for his wide-ranging outreach efforts. He is also the Executive Director of The Alongside Wildlife Foundation, a non-profit he founded to promote science-based solutions to living alongside wildlife in perpetuity. David relocated to the Golden Isles in 2018 and is responsible for managing the research program of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Huw Davies | Emory University| July 26, 2018
Molecular Chemistry 

Genoveva Ocampo | Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico | July 12, 2018
Sacred Maya Spaces, the Nahil Kab, houses of the Melipona beecheii in the Madrid Codex

From Ocampo: I was born in México City, México, where I live. I studied Biology, and I have my History Masters and PhD in Mesoamerican Studies from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). I hold a position as professor both in the Undergraduate and Graduate Colleges in the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the UNAM, with the subjects Health, Sickness and Epidemics in the Mesoamerican Cultures, and Historical Geography. My investigations are on the History of Mesoamerican traditional medicines and the activity of medical specialists in the pre-hispanic and colonial times, and the importance of these knowledges and practices for the contemporary indigenous cultures; the epidemics of pre-hispanic and colonial times in America and its consequences on the native peoples; the Melipona native stingless bees in Mesoamerica, history, biology, use of the honey, wax and other products in the past and present by the Mexican peoples, and the medicinal applications of Melipona honey. I am also part of the University Project on “Sacred Plants of the Maya People”. I have published articles and book chapters on these themes.

Eri Saikawa | Emory University | June 28, 2018
Plants, Air Pollution and Climate Change

Eri Saikawa is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Environmental Sciences at Emory University. She received a Bachelor of Engineering in chemistry and biotechnology at the University of Tokyo, Master of Public Affairs with a concentration in environmental policy and natural resource management at Indiana University, Bloomington, and a Ph.D. from the Science, Technology and Environmental Policy program at Princeton University. Her research is focused on analyzing sources and magnitude of emissions linked to air pollution, ozone depletion, and climate change, as well as the impacts of these emissions on humans and society.

Tyrone Hayes | UC Berkley | May 24, 2018
Frogs and Environmental Justice

Tyrone B. Hayes was born and raised in Columbia, S.C. where he developed his love for biology. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1989 and his PhD from the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1993. After completing his PhD, he began post-doctoral training at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health and the Cancer Research Laboratories at UC Berkeley (funded by the National Science Foundation), but this training was truncated when he was hired as an Assistant Professor at UC Berkeley in 1994. He was promoted to Associate professor with tenure in 2000 and to full Professor in 2003. Hayes’ research focuses on developmental endocrinology with an emphasis on evolution and environmental regulation of growth and development. For the last twenty years, the role of endocrine disrupting contaminants, particularly pesticides, has been a major focus. Hayes is interested in the impact of chemical contaminants on environmental health and public health, with a specific interest in the role of pesticides in global amphibian declines and environmental justice concerns associated with targeted exposure of racial and ethnic minorities to endocrine disruptors and the role that exposure plays in health care disparities.